When we started our homesteading life, flexibility was a huge perk we were looking forward to. However, the last few years we had less flexibility since our mission was starting our homestead up from scratch. Our infrastructure and systems are in place now (for the most part) and we knew it was time to do the next thing in the master plan, travel more! While we can’t travel in spring, summer or fall due to our commitments of growing our own food on the homestead, we knew it was time to start utilizing the flexibility we have in winter to travel. I love traveling, seeing new things, experiencing new cultures and expanding my mind through experiences. As a homeschooling family, I also saw the opportunity for the kids to learn on the road, through experiences, rather than at the kitchen table in a book. Several months ago I start planning a winter trip, the timing worked well, having it take place just before we start our seeds indoor (always planning ahead!). A few winters ago Woodland said he wanted to see the desert, so that was our destination! It was quite the road trip! Some things I tallied from our travels:
16 days 2 adults, 2 kids, 1 dog 84 word search puzzles 7 audiobooks 5,000 miles driven, approximately 7 meals out 41 meals packed/prepared (this is no easy feat while traveling with family!) 1 epic hot air balloon ride 10 states 8 National Park properties 4 lizards, 10+ new to us birds 3 AirBNB’s 4 overnights in hotels 0 sightings of Michigan License Plates (c’mon MI, represent!) Countless new things learned and opportunities had!
We learned so much along the way, and we even learned about homesteading – gathering knowledge about indigenous farming through the last thousands of years in the desert and ranch life from the 1800’s.
Here are some photo highlights from our travels:
On our travels we saw expansive open spaces, tall and seemingly never-ending mountains, and captured knowledge about millions of years of history. While daily life can feel big and overwhelming, through our observations I recognized how small we are in the entire scope of things. It makes daily challenges seem much more manageable, as we are just a speck in the expanse and history of time.
Yet, while we were out and about, so many things remind me of home. Yup, even in the desert! Common plant families – like mallow, hiking over sandstone and basalt rocks – such as those of the Keweenaw, copper mining – albeit a very different style than the Keweenaw region; so much of what we experienced ended with “hey, that’s similar to at home!”. While it was great to be out and about, expanding our minds and having new experiences, arriving home was a welcome part of our trip. Our homestead is where we feel the strongest sense of belonging. Man is it good to have a place to belong.
P.S. There was a lot more snow when we got home! We are so grateful for our neighbors who took care of our animals and homestead while we were adventuring. We have an amazing community who looks after each other.
This was a rough week on the homestead. In just 7 days time we lost 3 duck hens and our rabbit – they were all killed by a predator. A few months ago we lost 5 chickens in one night. In summer, we were raising 6 chicks in a secure pen, only to go check on them and find them either missing or beheaded. To a large homestead or farm operation this might seems like nothing. But 3 ducks was almost half of our duck hen flock, 5 chickens was half of our chickens, 6 chicks was our succession of youth for the following year and our rabbit was more like a pet (he was our buck when we were raising meat rabbits, but we stopped meat rabbits and kept him because he was so sweet). Raising all kinds of animals is a long-term commitment, with poultry it takes time for them to be productive layers so unless you replace them with adults, you can’t just make up your egg production instantly. When they are gone, so is a period of time of egg production. Replacing them with adults is an option, but it comes with its own risks like disease or lack of acceptance from the tenured flock.
A common question we have living on a homestead that is fairly remote (no surrounding “farms” or neighbors) is – do you have problems with predators? Yes, we do. Then, what predators do you have? Coyote, fox? Well, we have almost every predator you could imagine in the Northwoods, but the one that actually causes us 95% of our problems – the short-tailed weasel. In winter its coat turns white and is referred to as an ermine. Some also call it a stoat. I have some other choice names for it, ha! It’s really cute, and really deadly. What a weasel usually preys on is mice, voles, shrews, frogs, eggs (we’ve also had problems with it robbing our eggs – we’ve found huge stashes outside the poultry pen), bugs and other small critters. Also apparently any type of poultry, no matter the size. The worst part of this little predator is that they just kill, enjoy some blood, and then leave the entire carcass. It seems like such a waste. The additional 5% of our predation problem comes from the sky (hawks, owls).
When dealing with predators that can climb anything and sneak though any little space, it takes a lot of effort. It is one of the most frustrating aspects of homesteading for me, because I feel like we are always a few steps behind this murderous little beast. A year or so ago we’ve fenced in all our poultry to limit predation (they were free range). Then after the ermine went on a serial killing spree of 5 chickens in one night, Tim reinforced the chicken coup (which thankfully we haven’t had any chicken loss since). Now with the ducks being killed, Tim spent a bunch of time this week creating for them an “ermine proof” nighttime pen. Thankfully he’s been able to build this using supplies we had on hand – he’s so inventive and handy. Part of this new pen is that they (our ducks and geese) need to create a new habit of going in the pen at night so we can close them in until morning. The first night we had to encourage them in. The second night and every night after so far they have gone in on their own! Their intelligent behavior made me feel like a proud mother, ha!
I hope these new efforts slow down or stop the predation we have been experiencing. Seeing half your flock that you’ve raised, fed, and cared for die in an instant is a serious let-down. In reflection, a few ideas float in my mind.
1.) I still LOVE nature. We are part of nature (not separate of it) and that means we are often at the mercy of it. I can’t control the weather, but I can be prepared for it. As such, I can’t control the ermines natural behavior, but I can be prepared for it (better shelter, etc.)
2.) Homesteading is not glamorous. If you follow homesteaders on social media and are enamored with their lifestyle, then they probably are only showing you the “romantic” side of homesteading. There are so many amazing things about homesteading lifestyle, but like anything in life, there are plenty of bummer things too.
3.) I choose to enjoy the flow of my life, and not just the outcome. No, I don’t enjoy the dead ducks, but I do love life and this is a part of life. There will never be perfection along the way. There will be ups and downs. And, when it’s not going well, I’m learning.
Moving into a new week, we hope that the new duck/goose shelter that Tim built will be keeping them safe. Also, we are left thinking about how to make up for the loss of our 3 duck hens. On the upside, garden planning has been started and some new seeds have arrived in the mail! There is always something going on here at the homestead, good or bad, I accept it and keep moving right along.
Today I happily welcome Winter Solstice. I love love love this day. The darkest day of the year – where here in the Keweenaw there are 9 hours and 45 minutes of daylight between the official sunrise and sunset times. Why so happy on such a dark day? Because it’s only going to get lighter from here folks (well, at least till summer solstice)! Yes, we have a lot of winter months left here in the north, but with all this darkness and snow it’s a great time to unwind and reflect, relax and renew. As a family who lives in tune with the earth and seasonality, we have annual Winter solstice traditions. I also like to take time for myself around solstice to look at the dark and the light in the past year, and project into the future my hopes for the upcoming year.
As a Winter solstice tradition, our family plans a book exchange between the 4 of us (what better to do in winter than read?!); we also go on a winter hike. A weather system is moving in with more snow today, so the hike should be filled with snowy wonder! This year I’m adding in a new tradition – HARVEST! It was our first year doing a winter planting in our high tunnel and now it’s time to harvest the beets and carrots. On a cold winter day, what a joy it will be to wash off the soil from our fresh vegetables and prepare them as a family. We’ll roast the carrots and beets with potatoes and herbs we harvested in autumn and enjoy a hearty dinner.
There is plenty to reflect upon this year. This past summer we celebrated our 4th anniversary here – it’s really important to us to celebrate the major life change we made, where we went from a typical town-dwelling working family to a yurt living, homesteading family in the Northwoods. Every year we celebrate making this soul-filling change in our lives.
2021 was our first full year with the high tunnel for growing produce. This means we started planting earlier than ever before with seeds going into the ground on March 7th, almost 3 months before much of the outdoor garden. And, in early August a small winter crop was planted. It takes a lot more effort to manage all the garden space for longer periods of time, but the rewards are immeasurable!
Also in 2021 we opened our AirBNB farmstay and had the most amazing response. It was a great way to generate more income for our family business, but more importantly enrich our lives (and hopefully the lives of our guests too). We met so many amazing people, and for those that took the 30-minute farm tour – we we able to share our story and experiences with them and connect them to how food (plants and animals) is grown in sustainable ways.
Our farmstand went on into its second summer and we expanded the types of produce for sale along with having more produce early in the season. The farmstand has connected us to our own community members, and beyond! Plus, my heart is full knowing our farmstand guests are eating nutrient dense, uber-local, organic produce and homemade foods in their own homes.
A challenge of 2021, as usual, is time. I am still learning the balance of work and play (usually losing play to work), and coming to terms with the fact that for homesteaders, summer is more work and less play and it’s okay, as long as I keep tabs on a suitable balance within that.
Another challenge of 2021 was that at the start of summer I started experiencing some discomfort in my leg, ankle and foot. Because I tend to downplay my own need for care, I ignored doing something about it. It became the source of chronic and debilitating pain over the course of the summer and I finally got myself into the doctor who ruled out any major problems and sent me to physical therapy (PT). My mobility has been coming back over the last few months of PT and I have high hopes this lesson sticks: ‘Care for yourself, damnit Lisa!’ I’ve been slowly learning this lesson over the years, but this may have been the most concrete evidence for it yet. And, I’m learning more about why I do this, which is also part of the solution.
Just like any 24-hour day, there are periods of light and dark in our lives. Both are always guaranteed. The question is, what will you make of it? Do you choose dark or light?
Happy Winter Solstice, Friends! May your upcoming days be filled with more light than dark and may you have many things to be grateful for. Thank you for joining us on our journey!
At the end of last year I set a mantra: live a slow, simple, and intentional life – unabashedly. I knew this wouldn’t be an immediate switch from what was happening (busy, overworked, disconnected) but I’m a believer that if you set an intention, the more you focus on it being true, it will happen. I knew that living this mantra wouldn’t just be an easy thing. I see clearly the type of person I am when it comes to keeping busy, and I knew that it would even take work to unlearn allowing my busyness to provide self-worth. It’s the journey, not the destination, right? Well, even though I had removed certain things from my responsibilities (outside of the home things) this summer proved to give more reasons to stay busy, like the following two:
-the AirBNB cabin is/was solidly booked all summer! This was the most amazing and abundant thing that happened all year, far surpassing our expectations! It did create more busyness, but it has been soul feeding. You wouldn’t even believe the level of awesome so many of our guests are!
-we expanded the garden in variety and size. The goal with this is to offer more variety and quantity to our loyal farm stand customers, along with the fun of trying new things, broadening our food preserving for winter, and getting more varied healthy foods in-season. It’s going well, and like always I’m taking notes in what to try different for next year. It’s really always an experiment of sorts 🙂
So yeah, there will always be a “next thing” (disclaimer: especially when you have kids). Commitments (fun ones yes!, but still something add to a schedule), things to do, things to go to, people to see. These all bring so much joy, but sometimes they bring rushing too. Sometimes they bring longing for quiet time at home. Will I ever be the type to just uncommit or be “lazy”, or have no purpose…. Nope. It’s just not possible, that’s not me. But I am finding ways to bring slow, simple, and intentional into my daily life. I have found that it’s small things, every day, that ground me. For instance, everyday I start with making coffee, enjoying a cup and then at least 10 minutes of meditation. I do nothing else before this, especially no phone checking. That way I come to myself, first thing each day, with a clear mind. It sets my tone for the day.
Another thing I have found helpful is to break up my work. It wasn’t an idea that came to me on my own, my body pretty well forced it upon me. I have been having a hard time with an ankle injury, and doing hours of work on it just worsens the damage, so much that by the end of the day I was immobile and in lots of pain. So, I break my work up now into shorter chunks of time. It’s amazing how different it feels when it comes to achievement. Instead of coming out of the garden exhausted and cranky from hours in the heat and sun, I come out thinking “I harvested all that in 45 minutes?!” I hope to keep this new habit going even after my ankle is healed.
Oh, and in between those short bursts of work? I rest. Sometimes I sit down. I. Actually. Sit! Sometimes I even lay in my hammock, in fact that’s what doing right now, while I’m writing this.
You know what else I do? I talk to myself. Yup. I think so many of us need to hear some form of this about ourselves: You are enough. And hearing something like this from ourselves, the most important person to hear it from: “I am enough. There is nothing I need to do to prove myself, but just be me.” In fact, none of us have to prove anything at all, it’s just that faulty programming inside us that says so.
I am part of an amazing community. A small local community. A broader food community. A community of friends and family. I see so many wonderful people around me wearing out over self-imposed circumstances (even if sometimes it’s unclear and we want to place blame on others for this, like a boss for example). I don’t think we need to do this, friends. Let’s be good to ourselves and take just a little bit of time each day to do something that brings a smile to our face, slows our heart rate or raises gratitude awareness. Here’s a few things we’ve done on the homestead:
We even hosted an afternoon herbal tea party by the roses which was a real delight.
I sincerely hope you find something that brings you joy or presses that reset button daily.
Happy Spring! We’ve been over here in the Northwoods riding the wave of Mother Nature’s moods. The last two days were 60 degrees F and sunny in the Keweenaw and as I’m writing this it’s 34 degrees F and snowing enough to accumulate. This time of year really reminds me of how adaptable and flexible we need to be. We can learn this lesson from nature. The migrating birds are either here or moving through, the trees are just starting to leaf out, the daffodils are just about to open and then…..SNOW. Yet, in most cases they just keep right along or making slight adaptations to manage through it. I’m doing a similar thing today. I had outside plans, but this weather and my plans didn’t mix. I made a few changes and now I’m on the couch with a cozy blanket and cup of tea. That’s flexibility, right? 😉
One of my outdoor plans today was to pull the overwintered parsnips and carrots out of the garden. It is such a treat enjoy fresh in April what was planted in summer last year. Fresh is so very appreciated this time of year – from that harvested from last year’s planted, along with fresh greens from seeds recently sown in the High Tunnel.
As a gardener and reader, I come across different sayings and quotes that have the tune of gardening, but carry deeper meaning, as interpreted by the reader. Here’s one of those quotes by a wise unknown.
“The day you plant the seed, is not the day you eat the fruit.”
We’ve recently been planting a lot of seeds, along with harvesting the fruit (or roots in the case of carrots and parsnip), so I get this quote. It’s literal. But, it really gets me thinking about it metaphorically as well. This summer we’ll be celebrating our 4th year as permanent, full-time residents of White Sky Woods, but we started planting the “seeds” long before making this major move to homesteading and yurt life. Maybe the “seeds” were little ideas of what our homestead could be like, or maybe a “seed” was a purchase that allowed us to achieve something more, like fencing the garden so our real seeds could safely grow.
Sometimes we plant “seeds” in the form of positive ideas that we don’t even know will grow. Maybe the “seed” is an idea that you’re passionate about and you do everything to grow the “seed” by learning, practicing, dreaming, and doing. All these efforts help the “seed” grow, but depending on what is meant to be, it may or may not be productive enough to ever pick the “fruit”.
Maybe you plant a “seed” as just a passing thought and it magically grows on its own without much input and then suddenly there is “fruit” and you feel grateful. These “fruits” are surprising and sometimes even go unnoticed because the “seed” was such a passing thought.
Maybe in another case the “seed” you plant is an idea that is critical, damaging, or negative. We can grow these seeds too, and these kinds typically have “fruit” that is more akin to thorns. For some of us, these are the easiest “seeds” to grow, but I’d say that for all of us, the least welcome “fruit.”
Everyday as a family we take time at dinner to say what we are grateful for. It’s such a positive practice. Sometimes we have small things, and sometimes big ones. But, it’s great practice to make note of what “seeds” we are planting and what “fruits” have grown.
What “seeds” are you planting? What “fruit” will they or have they grown? I’d love to hear!
Just as the weather and seasons change and can be unpredictable, so sometimes are things here on the homestead. In the past 3.5 years, we’ve seen a lot of changes! As newbie homesteaders since 2017, we’ve been enjoying and exploring various opportunities that homesteading offers. For instance, in year one we bought 2 pigs, bred them, and then raised and sold their young in year two. In that time we learned to castrate piglets and raise them on rotational grazing on pasture. We learned how to butcher a young pig, inseminate a sow (although unsuccessful) and then butchered a 615# sow on our own. We could never had predicted any of that journey, but we did give it all of our heart and soul. There were ups and downs and I don’t regret any of it. We learned what we think we would or wouldn’t do again and we’re open-minded to the idea that overtime, that could change.
Two years ago we decided to explore another opportunity, working with young calves to train them to oxen to have working draft animals here. We brought home Nels and Wiit and raised them from calves. We trained them for work. They learned commands like come up, woah, gi, and haw. They went on daily walks, they grazed the pastures all summer long. They learned to pull, and boy did the kids love getting sled rides down the road.
In year two we had a few road blocks to training. Both Tim and I had injuries which made handling large animals challenging. Also, renovating the cabin and managing a growing garden and high tunnel were full time jobs on top of our regular work. Unfortunately this combination of circumstances impacted the amount of work we were able to do with Nels and Wiit. They still had their daily walks to pasture and received plenty of love.
2020 was a tiring year for us. As we came into the new year I spent a lot of time thinking about priorities and simplifying life. Tim had been doing the same. One evening we found ourselves reflecting on our past year and the year ahead, ideas that had been in our minds were vocalized and after taking a week’s time to think about the discussion and options, a hard decision was made. It was time to make some changes to downsize our responsibilities and costs. It was time to take a new direction, away from our original ideas. This includes several changes, with the biggest being choosing not to proceed with training Nels and Wiit for draft and no longer keeping them. When we spoke with some friends about this, they expressed interest in buying for beef. With hearing this, we knew that this hard decision was just made clear. We’d choose good food over the attempt to sell trained young steer in a region where this type of activity is rare. While our vision of draft for Nels and Wiit didn’t come to complete fruition, it was an incredibly enriching two years of time for us and friends who spent time with them, and as it goes for the cows they had a great life. They were cared for holistically and loved and they will provide healthy, tasty food for four local families who will enjoy meat raised within just five miles of their homes.
With a trailer rented from a friend, we loaded up the cows. We were so nervous they wouldn’t load, but their training really came in handy. With some simple guidance, they went into the trailer with no trouble. They made the trip to the processing facility (we didn’t want to take on this scale of project ourselves) and were easily loaded off. The homestead is already very quiet without their presence, since they always greeted anyone with mooing. As with all our animals, the decision to end a life is never easy. Also with all our animals that end as a meal, we have extreme gratitude for the opportunity to connect with them and have them enrich our lives during their time here and for the nourishment they provide for us after.
The homestead feels different now, but we are moving along with thanks in our hearts. We continue to evaluate what’s right for us and where to put our focus. We will always be learning and doing, adapting and changing. Sometimes this leads to tears and sometimes to joy and we’ll live it to the fullest. Life is good.
It’s seed starting time so the smell of dirt is in the air! Also, we’re wrapping up all the rehab and remodeling work on the vacation rental cabin and getting ready to list it for booking! Stay in touch on Instagram and Facebook for a sneak peek of it all!
When I was 38 years old (I’m 41 now), we made a big change. With a lot (tons really) of planning, we moved our family of four to our land and newly built yurt several hundred miles away from where we were living and working. White Sky Woods Homestead became our new home, starting a whole new way of life. Basically everything we knew, our daily routines, our responsibilities, our income, our overall way of life changed.
It took a lot of adapting for me to go from career-driven working mom to a part-time work from home, homesteader, stay at home and homeschooling mom. I’m still adjusting! My way of life is so different now, which is exactly what the goal of this major change was, but it’s been almost like restarting life. Adapting and learning how to live in this new way. This is akin to graduating college and getting your first job, or becoming empty nesters, or retiring.
I had to learn how to find my new “identity”. I had just spent 13 years in a career which fulfilled my quest for learning, personal and professional growth, and gave me opportunities to feel successful and appreciated in my work. Overnight, my new role became managing a homestead, our family’s well-being and security through self-reliance, my kids’ education, and many less significant things. Once I somewhat got a hold on this, I realized I was missing something. I couldn’t quite put a finger in it, but it seemed that although this was all on track with how I wanted it to be, I didn’t really have anything for me. Everything I was doing was for others and parenting especially is one of the most thankless jobs. I didn’t have that outside thing for just me anymore…where I could be successful and get credit and enjoy something for just myself. When I realized this, I started to seek opportunities for me to have a chance to “adult”, specifically doing something that gave me personal purpose. Because my programming is to be driven and successful and seemingly prove myself through work, I kept seeking, kept finding more things to fill this drive. I volunteered, got hired, coordinated groups, taught, got hired more, advanced our own business, and so on. I took on more and more and more. I tried to find worth through the work and the busyness. I was starting to repeat a pattern (I see this now) that I’ve had in my life…the pattern of existence where I’m more of a human “doing” than a human “being.”
Then, March 2020 intervened. At this point in time I was starting to recognize a problem I had created as I was facing burnout. I had just took on two new, great opportunities. Everything I was doing seemed so positive, but, I was stressed out and finding that home/work/me balance was becoming near impossible. When the pandemic shut-down began in mid-March, my calendar started to clear and my eyes started to open to a pace that was more preferred. Basically, a pace where we weren’t rushing or running from one thing to the next. We moved up here to escape the rat race of work and society, but somehow, here I was in it again…I created my own rat race. I had defaulted to my own flawed programming of finding worth or value in being busy. Yuk. It wasn’t good for me or my family.
Some things had to change but I needed time to process what this change looked like. What was in my life that wasn’t serving my wellness and my soul? These were the things that went first. It was really tough to make these choices, because quitting sucks. Another part of my flawed programming tells me that when you quit something, you’ve failed. But that, my friends, is FALSE!
I readjusted after these changes, but it was still challenging. My drive kicked back in and once summer came I was working 10-12 hour days, often 7 days a week keeping busy growing, farming, maintaining, doing my paid jobs, parenting, providing for my family, keeping a home, etc. When you live where you work, work is always in your face. It’s inescapable unless you make a point to not focus on it. I know a lot of people can relate, especially once work moved into the house due to the pandemic. When you have an obnoxiously strong commitment to competence or perfectionism or whatever it is, it is hard to break away and those kinds of hours and days worked are just not sustainable for anyone.
It was time to recognize this, once again, and start figuring out what steps I needed to take to get myself in a more healthy and sustainable place and focused more on what mattered. But wait, what was it that mattered again? Oh yeah, this huge life change was about things being more SIMPLE. A slower life. A life focused on family, friends, self, and community. A life immersed in nature. A life that is not managed for us, but BY us. A sustainable life in all ways: financially, environmentally, socially, personally, emotionally…to name a few. The choices I make for myself and that we make as a family should point back to this. So, I wrote that focus down. Then, I listed the things I’m doing and would like to be doing. I compared them all to the idea of a simple and sustainable life. I crossed things off. I thought about it. I talked with Tim and friends about it. I crossed more things off. I rested on it some more and then I started again to take actions to get myself into a place where I am comfortable and where I’m closer to simplicity. This took some more quitting things, some delegation, some reframing how I choose to let things make me feel, and so forth. It’s dirty work, almost more dirty than mucking the cow shelter.
The end of the year is near, and I’m feeling a lightness from the changes. I see a light toward even more changes. I now have a clear direction and a few specific things to be focused on. I am invested in these things and have chosen them with purpose. They may be overwhelming at times, anything can be. I’m ready to accept that and/or notice when things are out of balance and then do something about it. I also have some new routines that bring balance and self-care to my life. New patterns and habits that make space for me. Having space for me has allowed me to be much more present to my family and the work I do. I haven’t arrived to anything perfect, because perfect is not authentic and is not real. I’m a work in progress, ongoing.
I recently saw a statement that said “joy is an act of resistance.” We are surrounded by so much that pulls us away from who we authentically are and that keeps us from the joy we all have the right to. Society is in constant critique of those who don’t fit norm. But, if the norm is being part of something that keeps joy from people, then count me out.
Our homesteading life brings me so much joy and freedom. I’m am surrounded by friendships that are healthy and strong and allow me to be authentically me. My family supports me even when I’m anxious, stressed, confused, etc. My work here on the homestead is exactly where my heart is. Schooling our kids at home, in nature, academically and eclectically, is allowing them to explore and grow in their own unique way. These things are what matter to me and I am so grateful to have the freedom to live this way. I write this blog for those who maybe have had a similar journey as mine and also to help me be accountable to myself.
I’ve created a mantra for 2021. Live a slow, simple and intentional life, unabashedly. Do you have one? Plan to create one? I’d love to hear about it.
In Summer of 2020, we had our 3 year anniversary of full-time residence and homesteading at White Sky Woods! We usually have a celebration, inviting friends, sharing food around the bonfire, but we didn’t do that this year – you know, pandemic. It’s hard to believe it’s been 3 years already … It’s hard to believe it’s only been 3 years! As with most things in life, the longer you do something, the more likely you recognize trends. Things become more predictable year to year. The homestead also brings some predictability of sentiments, such as the one that titles the blog.
As a homesteader, the majority of the heavy work we do takes place April – October. Everything revolves around the outdoor work and the garden: planting, growing, harvesting, putting up the food. It takes a lot of care and effort to manage a garden that supplies our food for a year for us plus a touch more for what we grow for the farm stand. I love the work! I love being active and connecting with the land. Doing all the work means bringing my family and community healthy food. That’s one reason we made the life transition from rat race to homesteading.
By the time August rolls around, I’m starting to feel generally overwhelmed. This past summer there was a lot of work done to build more of the foundation for our business, and the workload was worth it, but intense. By August, it feels like everything is a rush, balancing work and play becomes nearly impossible, it can be tiring and overwhelming. This is when I start to daydream about a slower pace: reading books, spending casual time with friends, focusing on work I’ve been putting off, getting back to things I enjoy that summer doesn’t afford time for, and traveling beyond the homestead. In its absence, all these things grow fonder in my mind.
Then comes October, and the panic really sets in. Will everything be prepped for winter, before the snow hits? Do we have enough food? How about firewood? This year I had in my mind that our major outdoor work would be wrapped up by November 1st, and I’d gracefully slide right into our calmer winter months. Something a little different happened. We started getting snow in mid-October and in my mind I surrendered to the fact not everything was getting done as planned. Then by early November it turned back to summer (it was 70 degrees this week – crazy!). These little flukes require flexibility. Nothing on the homestead is graceful.
Once winter sets in, the pace changes. There are still chores, homeschooling, community volunteering, employment and other regular responsibilities but the light of the days are short and the dark nights are long. We spend as much time enjoying the daylight as possible – snowshoeing, kids playing outside, and training time with our two young steer. There is more time to focus inward as well as spending extra time catching up on reading, handiwork, personal education, and generally time to do whatever ever sparks our interest. It’s really nice compared to the summer’s demands. It’s the break I yearn for during the end of summer when I’m overwhelmed and just plain tired.
By January we are ordering seeds. In February we shift to thinking more about summer projects and garden planning. By March we’re starting seeds inside (although all of this will probably look different in 2021 since we have the high tunnel to grow in, yay!). Suddenly, we feel an absence of summer and our heart grows fonder for those sunny days in the garden and we are eager for winter to be over so we can get to work outside.
Is it the human way to yearn for something we have absence of? I think most homesteaders who love what they do would agree, the work is great, but the rest is necessary. And once we’ve had the rest, we get antsy and ready to get back to the work. In this lifestyle, absence truly does make the heart grow fonder and is part of the work/rest cycle.
I recently attended the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network 2020 Virtual Conference and it was invigorating. Being held in November, it was reassuring to have conversations with other women who are experiencing end of season burnout. I took several sessions about how to support my well-being (something I generally suck at). Engaging in the conference was a form of self-care. I decided the best way for me to focus on the Virtual Conference was to do a little get-away to a place where I wouldn’t be distracted by my normal responsibilities. I’m grateful my family supported me in this. The conference was a great way to help me shift from end-of-season to off-season.
I know that in a few months I’ll be eager to have back the hard-working summer months, but until then I look forward to focusing on what is here, now, and creating new habits to help prevent burnout next summer.
I love all the seasons of the Keweenaw, but when it comes to foraging, oh my how summer does provide! Recently we had a filming here about Keweenaw foraging – for the show “Discovering” on 906 Outdoors. (We had a winter filming too, maybe you’d like to check it out!) After the filming (I’ll share the link on social when it’s ready!), I was reflecting on how I became a forager. I couldn’t quite put a finger on any specific experience or moment. More so that foraging sorta slowly sneaked its way into my life. It probably started with our move here to White Sky Woods. While the garden and fruit trees were just getting established, we foraged wild berries from all over our property. I probably didn’t call it foraging though, just picking. At the time, I had known through focusing on a natural foods diet, that some plants in nature were medicinal, such as raspberry leaf. I remember this being one of the first things foraged once we moved here, and it was so exciting that I blogged about it!
As we were out picking fruit, I started to see new plants I didn’t know. So, being the naturally curious person I am, I started out learning the identifications of many of the plants on our land – from trees to grasses and all the things between (I met a lot of amazing animal life along the way too). As I became more familiar with the plants we share our home with and developed the ability to identify them in various growing stages, I started to learn more about the properties of the plants and how they could benefit us and what we could do to provide for them. I fumbled a lot in the beginning, having problems with identification retention, but the more I was out with the land, the more it came to me quickly. On hikes out on the woods, I soon found myself looking at all the plants and naming them in my mind as I passed by them. I still do this today, like saying hi to people you know on a busy street.
Still, after many years identifying plants on our land (going back over a decade now), there are some that stump me every spring when they come up and I have to refresh my memory. But, there are the “old standards” that have become a part of our foraging practice that I easily identify, harvest, and use for various purposes. The kids do too!
We do some foraging and harvesting for medicinal purposes, but for the most part, our focus is finding wild edibles and foraging that benefit our general wellness. Our favorites are the berries, but there is SO much more than that. This past winter we didn’t buy packaged tea because we had foraged enough from the land to provide our own healthy teas. Also, I created a few blends to sell at our farm stand.
When I’m out spending time with the land now, I think about how the land provides. I thank it. I think about what I can do to provide for it in return for its abundance. It’s a relationship of balance and respect and reciprocity. Just like one you would have with a partner or friend.
That is what the land is to me. While the food we forage is healthy for our bodies, the relationship with the land feeds my soul. We feed our body with food, and we can feed our soul with nature (vitamin N).
I thought about sourcing a whole bunch of beautiful pictures of nature for this post, but honestly, writing about the land has it calling to me. Now, it’s time for me to head up in the trees and forage Juneberries while watching my fingers get stained with the juices and listening and observing nature around me.
07/06/20 Jacobsville, MI White Sky Woods Homestead
Originally written for and published by MSU Extension – Michigan Small Farm Newsletter. The monthly digest intends to give a quick snapshot of what’s going on around here on the homestead. Since many of our subscribers do not get that publication, I post the article here too.
Bountiful wild foraging, several healthy litters of rabbits, progress on our homestead vacation rental and good feedback and sales from our first year farm stand have been some of the best highlights of the start of the summer season.
The farm stand has been a rewarding new project. Every Saturday we sell 3 varieties of fresh baked bread and seasonally available produce fresh from our garden. We serve a very low population, seasonal, rural community, so bringing small amounts of fresh produce to sell each Saturday is our goal. Recently it’s been all about greens, but soon we’ll start having more variety such as snap peas, green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and more. We also sell jellies and jams made from hand-foraged wild edibles along with herbal teas, also sourced from hand-foraged wild edibles, all harvested in our own property. We do everything on a small and personally sustainable scale.
Aphids, grasshoppers and maybe other pests in the garden, some struggles with root crops (maybe thanks to the aforementioned pests), a broken down chainsaw, lack of time and extreme heat have been some of the challenges of the summer season.
We are thankful to say in the past 3 years of gardens we haven’t had much problem with pests, but year 4 of the garden is giving us new challenges. The great news is that we have much more growing space with the new high tunnel so if we lose some crops while trying to naturally manage the pests, our harvest will hopefully still be on track. However, some of the harvest will be missing almost completely: our beets, rutabaga, and parsnip. We’ve done several replantings and the best we can come up with is that the plants are being gobbled up by the grasshoppers or another pest immediately after emerging. If anyone has had this problem in the past, we would be so thankful to hear from you on what the pest was and what natural solutions were implemented.